HC Deb 29 September 1915 vol 74 cc890-905

Resolution reported,

16. "That on and after the twenty-ninth day of September, nineteen hundred and fifteen, until the first day of August, nineteen hundred and sixteen, there shall be charged on any of the following articles imported into Great Britain or Ireland a Customs duty of an amount equal to thirty three and one-third per cent, of the value of the article, that is to say:—

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I would like to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the great principle raised by this Resolution before we proceed any further with it. I do not think he can give us the answer which he has given us on other points, that we had better wait for the Bill, because if we were to carry this Resolution this very heavy duty which is embodied in it would come into operation to-morrow, and we should have a new precedent, and I venture to say a flagrant instance of Protection in connection with the industries of this country. My right hon. Friend, in his Budget speech, felt that he had a difficulty here—a difficulty which I venture to say appealed to him more strongly than it would to many Members of the Ministry. He therefore tried in his speech to put it on an exceptional basis. He put it under the heading of "foreign exchanges and luxuries." I do not want to be at all harsh on my right hon. Friend, because I know that he has a very heavy task before him at the present time, but I do think that a more weak and helpless defence of a great and new tax was never heard in the House of Commons. This will not help the difference in the exchange between this country and the United States. Other steps, which we all hope will be successful, are being taken at the present moment to deal with that rather urgent question. I think we may altogether put on one side this question of the exchange as irrelevant, and certainly irrelevant in face of the very great principle which this duty raises.

The other point, that these things are luxuries is, if I may say so without offence, even more absurd. We ought to be more particular than we are in talking about luxuries in connection with things like motor cars and cycles. Perhaps the House does not know that 67 per cent. of all the motor cars that are being imported at present into this country are being used either for purposes of trade or for the War. There is no luxury in that great proportion of these imports. The remaining 33 per cent. are cheap cars and cycles, mainly from America, that are being used by doctors and other professional men to save the use of horseflesh, and are really as far removed from luxuries as it would be possible to imagine. A very great injury will be done to very large businesses in this country if this Resolution is carried. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a very curious allusion to the figures in his Budget speech. He said that those who wished could look at our returns of imports and find the figures in justification of the tax. He gave us no justification himself. He said, "Look at the figures and you will find it." I do not want to be hard on him, because I recognise the limitations under which he was working when he made his Budget speech, but I did look at the figures for eight months, and in every case the imports are substantially reduced. These figures do not show the increase in the imports on which it was understood these vast proposals were placed. I see that the imports of motor cars, cycles, etc., during the eight months ending August last year amounted to £5,503,000, and for the corresponding eight months this year to £5,330,000, so that there is a reduction of £173,000. The comparative figures with regard to the whole series of duties proposed are £8,300,000 two years ago and £7,600,000 now, so that a great blow has been struck at each of these trades already.


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain whether that figure represents complete motor cars or parts of motor cars which are made in this country?


The figures which I have used include motor cars, cycles, and parts thereof.


You have not analysed them.


I do not want to trouble the House with several figures on each head. I only put this broad point. The imports have not increased. On the contrary, they have decreased, and the trades are not in any particular flourishing condition at the present time. They are suffering under considerable difficulty.


If my right hon. Friend has the figures, would he mind giving them to the House, because it makes an important difference whether the cars are imported whole, in which case they are not manufactured in this country, or whether they are imported in parts, in which case they are manufactured in this country.


My hon. Friends, with the best intention in the world, want to lead me into an argument which I do not desire to follow. It is very useful indeed in this House to keep to the line you yourself understand, and I am only just putting the simple point that the imports, taking them as a whole, have not increased. My two hon. Friends, bursting with intelligence, want to get figures from me to support their arguments. Even if I had the figures I think I should decline to give them, because it is much better for hon. Members to look up their own arguments.


Will my right hon. Friend say whether they include tyres?

6.0 P.M.


I would rather not say anything about it. I leave that to my hon. Friends opposite. I want to put a simple, broad point. The mistake which the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes in connection with this great and urgent matter is that he is of opinion that the explanation he makes in his speech will in some way condone the evil he is doing by his acts. The other night he gave a very courteous and encouraging reply to one of my hon. Friends upon this point, and he said that the future conduct of the Government would not be in the least prejudiced by what he was now doing, and that the time would come when he would again stand alongside his right hon. Friends as a Free Trader. I desire to differ from him on that point. I assure him that this House is a practical place, where you cannot escape from the consequences of what you do by any statement you choose to make about it. If you set up a tariff in this country to-day, it is no use saying you are setting it up to meet an emergency and that hereafter you will be able to resume your old position as a Free Trader. You will not be able to do so, and our position as Free Traders will be prejudiced for ever if we take the step which the Chancellor of the Exchequer asks us to take to-day. It is a very grave step, even in an emergency and in the circumstances in which we stand, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his position.

What is the argument the Government put forward with regard to this? They want money, and it is to get money—large sums of money—that they have taken the steps embodied in the Resolution. The House is with them, in a most generous, whole-hearted spirit, in giving the money asked for, and all the House asks is that the money should be taken without raising vital questions of principle, which may divide the House, and which many of us think are barred, owing to the particular circumstances of the day. Should it not be evident to the Prime Minister, who is pledged to the principle of Free Trade, and is it not evident to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they are raising, in connection with these proposals, the gravest principles associated with the trade and commerce of this country that can possibly be discussed here? Do these Gentlemen, and the section of the Cabinet which they represent, not consider that they are bound by the principles of Free Trade? I say nothing about other right hon. Gentlemen; it is quite consistent from their point of view that these duties should be introduced; but after the most eloquent and powerful appeals which have been made from the Government Bench that we shall not raise political discussions involving principles that go to the bottom of our convictions, so that the Government and the House may unanimously proceed with the great work of carrying on the War to a successful issue, it does seem that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making a very great mistake in introducing these particular proposals. The questions of Free Trade and of Conscription are two of the largest questions which could be raised, and I notice with profound regret that both have been raised by the Government, while the House unanimously desires to avoid acute discussions, which are calculated to interfere with the great work on which we are all united.

Only one reason is given for the step we are asked to take to-day, and that is the necessity to get money. But how much money will be obtained by these duties? The estimate is £2,000,000. I venture to say that that is far too liberal an estimate, in view of the probable effect of the duties. A duty of 33 1–3 per cent. will add one-third to the price of carrier cycles and all those small machines which are used in industry. There will be, in consequence, a tremendous falling off in the import of these machines as well as in the consumption, and this in turn will involve a falling off in the revenue to be derived from this source The amount, in fact, will be far less than is anticipated. Only £2,000,000 at any rate is estimated to be secured from this source, and I could mention to the right hon. Gentleman several methods in which that amount could easily be obtained. Some of them, indeed, have already been mentioned in the course of the discussion this evening. The House does not grudge the money to the right hon. Gentleman, but we do not want to enter into a bitter and acute controversy, such as is involved in the issue of Tariff versus Free Trade. How will the right hon. Gentleman get rid of the evil of this step? If the tariff comes into operation to-morrow, great vested interests will be interfered with. If we set up a tariff here, we know what the effect will be. The duty goes on small, but the tendency is for it to grow larger. This duty admittedly is not a small one, it is large; it will not get less, but it may get larger, because huge vested interests will be created, and the people concerned in those vested interests will come to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say, "You put this tariff on, you induced us to buy machinery, to open works, to lay down plant, and surely now you will not ruin us by abolishing the duty?" I venture to submit with great deference to the right hon. Gentleman that this evil will not be avoided by any explanation he may now give with regard to it. I warn the right hon. Gentleman with great deference that if these duties are persisted in, then the great Free Trade controversy will again be aroused. I am not raising it to-day; we can easily stop at this point. The right hon. Gentleman can withdraw the duties and get the money he requires in other ways, and then there will be an end to it, but if he does not do that, then I say we shall have, in deference to the pledges we have made to our constituents, to analyse his proposals, and to go into them in far greater detail than I intend to do on this occasion.

I will advance only one further argument. There are various points at which evil is sure to come into existence, but one appeals particularly to us, as Liberals, and to our constituents. We want the taxes of this country to be pure; we want to pay the money, especially if the taxes are heavy, for the purposes for which the money is voted by the House, namely, the carrying on of the War. We want to see the money raised by the country go straight into the Treasury. And here you find the root objection to these bad taxes. It is idle to tell me that the industries which you are taxing do not exist in our country. Here we have a gigantic cycle industry, and the price of all the articles which are produced in our own country will be raised in exactly the same proportion as you are raising it on imported articles. Again, you have no Excise Duty. Why, I ask, is there this inconsistency? We have been putting Excise Duties on everything so as to balance the Customs Duty. Why does the right hon. Gentleman dare to bring in a tax which provides for a high protective duty at this time, and yet propose no Excise Duty to balance it. I will not labour that point further. All the evils which inevitably arise from Protection will arise in this case, and I wish to submit that the game is not worth the candle. I appeal to the Government to preserve the unity of feeling which they have, with such great credit to themselves, preserved in this House for the last fourteen months. I plead with them to preserve it still, and not to raise this great controversy on a vital issue on which we have the strongest feelings—an issue which has been raised and fully discussed in this country during the past few years. I urge them not to raise it again, but to stick to those principles on which they appealed to the electorate of the country and on which they were returned to power.

Lieut.-Commander WEDGWOOD

I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman opposite has opened the opposition to the carrying through of this particular Resolution. It is the thin end of Protection, but at the same time it is rather a thick end. The right hon. Gentleman passed over, unduly lightly, one of the main reasons which induced the Government to bring in this tax. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it perfectly clear that, in introducing it, he was not thinking so much of the money to be got by the tax, as of the reduction in our imports and the consequent improvement in the American exchange. What is the American exchange at the present time? What does it mean? It means that a British sovereign will not buy as much goods in America as it used to buy; that the £ has depreciated in value by about 12 per cent., and that this drop in the exchange in America has, in fact, established a very effective tariff against America in this country. There is a 12 per cent, duty on everything that comes from America, established by the very fact that the exchange has gone against us. It is a tax on goods that come from America into this country. Having got their tariff, having got a protective tariff on everything that comes from America, the Protectionists in this country—the Tariff Reformers—then produce a tariff designed to nullify the already existing tariff that the balance of trade between this country and America has actually set up. I do not see the point of it in the least. If you want a tariff, you only have to continue to export far less goods than you used to and to import far more; then the exchange will go against you, the automatic law of supply and demand will come in, and you will find you have to pay far more than you used to for everything you get from that country. Thus you get a tariff. Surely that is enough, without trying to put things right in an accidental and artificial way by imposing a special tariff on certain articles which come from America.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) showed conclusively the other day how very small was the body of trade with America which was helped by this particular tax. It was merely a question of £6,000,000 worth in the year out of a total trade of some £800,000,000. Obviously if you are going to take your artificial steps to put the exchange with America right you will have to go far further than dealing merely with motor cars. This Motor Car Tax at the present time seems to be about one of the worst the Government could have touched. Remember that our one object at this time is to economise labour in this country. Our object is to get as many as possible of our males into the fighting line at the Front. We want them there, where they can do the best possible work for their country. I maintain, and I think the whole House will agree with me, that nothing is so helpful in economising labour in this country as the introduction of motor cars. All these cheap cars are coming in, including the Ford cars, which come from America. The Ford car is talked of as being the rich man's car, but a prosperous man will not look at a Ford car. These cars are cheap and are used for commercial purposes. The shopkeepers, whose hands have enlisted and are fighting at the front, have managed to economise without getting fresh people to replace their shop assistants and delivery hands who have gone to the Front by the adoption of the carrier cars. These cars have come in and taken the place of the old horse and van. They do the work at twice the rate of the old horse and van. By this means they have effected an enormous economy in labour in this country. Nor is that all. The majority of these cars which come in are not used for the business purposes. The majority of the cars are used by the Government itself, including an enormous number of Ford cars. Therefore this is the worst possible tax you could have put on in order to remedy the exchange, if you think you can remedy it by artificial means, because you are preventing that economy in labour in this country which is of the greatest possible importance at the present time.

That is not the only way in which you are making it more difficult to get the men where you most need them—at the Front. You are also by this tax setting up, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) has said, a very strong vested interest. It is no use anybody pretending that this tax is not a protective one, or to say that all motor-car firms in this country are producing munitions; therefore there is nobody to protect. The Conservative Press has made that quite obvious. I saw only the other day, in the "Globe" newspaper, which is, of course, strongly Conservative in its tone, a leading article devoted to the iniquity of the Free Traders of this country who were objecting to this tax on motor-cars, in which they said—I am quoting from memory—that the motor-car manufacturers in this country, with enormous patriotism, had voluntarily turned over their works to the Government to produce munitions instead of motor-cars, and that therefore the least the Government could do in return was to give them a protective tariff, so that after the War they would be able to compete with the foreigner and get back their old trade, and that, secure under the shelter of a 33⅓ per cent, tariff, they should be able to recover their old position. A great number of firms in this country would be only too glad if their works, which have been ruined by the War, could be used for making ammunition for the Government at the present prices of ammunition. The patriotism was not in turning the works over to the Government. That was ordinary business common-sense. If we are going to assist industries that are being ruined, I suggest that a protective tariff on crockery would be much more useful. It is not so much a luxury as motor-cars, and a protective tariff upon it would be a great deal more useful than the protective tariff on motor-cars.

For these two reasons alone, apart from all questions of principle, we ought to vote against this tax. In the first place it is an attempt artificially to put right the state of affairs which itself is readjusting the trade between this country and America—I mean the American exchange. That itself automatically is readjusting the exchange of good between us and America. This is an attempt to check that, and therefore unnecessary and undesirable. In the second place, you are selecting the one item which is going to make it more difficult for people to go and fight at the front, and create a larger demand for labour in this country, where it is not wanted. For these two reasons, apart from all question of principle, this tax is a bad one. I would emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has already said, and would urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to throw down now this frightful bone of contention between us. I do not think the Liberal Members of the Cabinet who consented to this tax can possibly understand what it means to the ordinary rank and file of Liberals in the country. Here, for ten years, we have not only been using arguments at street corners, and meetings week by week and month by month, but we have been believing in those arguments. [Laughter.] We are in the happy position of being able to believe in the arguments we have used. We have been using those arguments, we believe in them, and they have become, in a sense, the faith of the Liberal party. To have them thrown over for a palty revenue of £2,000,000 a year in an attempt, foredoomed to failure, to set right the exchange between us and America, to have them thrown over with merely the ipse dixit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is only temporary, and that he will be virtuous again as soon as War is over, that seems to me and to Liberals in the country to be playing with a very serious subject, and a joke which is not worth playing.

It is not as if we wanted money and could not get it any other way. We would have been glad if the Income Tax had been increased by another penny in the pound. It is not only that their faith is taken away from under their feet, it is more than that. This Coalition Government came in on a supreme pledge that there was to be no breach of the party truce. We were not to have any subjects brought before the House of Commons which would tend to show the enemy that there were two parties. If this thing goes through there is a breach of the party truce. Let there be no mistake about this. The matter will be debated. We shall have public meetings all over the country—[HON. MEMBERS "No! No!"]—on both sides. [HON. MEMBERS: "On your own side!"] This is the throwing down of the gauge of battle. Not only is it a breach of the party truce or a question of Free Trade versus Protection. Those of us who believe in the taxation of land values have been quiet during the last year because we have had other things to do. We have not urged upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should embody in his Budget any of our views, but if we find that taxes on various articles are to be put into the Budget of this country, then we shall be bound to bring up our system of taxation and our suggestions as to how the money should be raised, and in that case there will be more dissension, more division, and more of all that political agitation which it ought to be the object of every decent citizen in this country to put an end to during the War.


I have listened with very great interest to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieutenant-Commander Wedgwood). He will not be surprised when I say that in his general argument I entirely agree with him. But I am not quite sure that I could admit, by any means, all the statements which he made. He quite accurately, if I may say so, represented the condition of the American Exchange as a protection of this country against American imports. That is quite true. He said, "Leave it alone; leave it to automatic adjustment." I wish it would adjust itself. If it were automatic, I would be only too glad to leave it alone. But my hon. and gallant Friend forgets that the circumstances are quite abnormal. In ordinary times he and I are at one in thinking that duties on imports for purposes other than revenue are anathema. In ordinary times when the exchange goes against a country, exports from that country obtain an advantage, and imports are placed under a disadvantage; but the condition now between this country and America is that we have got compulsory imports and insufficient power to export. There is, consequently, no automatic readjustment as there would be under the conditions of ordinary trade. The only condition upon which you can get automatic readjustment would be that the Government should discontinue giving orders in America for munitions of war, both on its own account and on account of the Allies. Nobody would be more eloquent than my hon. and gallant Friend in opposition to any proposal to discontinue our fighting the War to the utmost of our powers. These imports are compulsory imports. There is no other word for us to use. So long as that condition remains the exchange cannot be left to its own automatic care. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Loan? "] The loan is an effort to restore the exchange. The loan is not automatic.


made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.


I do not think my hon. Friend heard the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. I am answering his speech. Let me point out this: that every effort that may be made to restore the exchange by the imposition of obstacles in the way of imports which you may not be particularly anxious to receive into the country operates in favour of those articles which you do desire to receive. We will assume, for the sake of my argument—my hon. Friend must admit this assumption—that if the effect of this duty on motor cars is to raise the exchange in this country in relation to America, it means that we shall get our wheat and our meat cheaper from that country. I understand my hon. Friend agrees with that. Therefore, under the exceptional circumstances of this time, it may be right to take measures to raise the exchange of this country in relation to the United States by using import duties.

I for one should protest most strongly against the statement of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lough) that I am prejudicing for ever my position as a Free Trader. I know that the time will come, I hope very shortly, when I shall be quoting what I am saying now as evidence that I did not prejudice my position as a Free Trader, and my right hon. Friend will also be relying upon the statement that we are not prejudicing our position as Free Traders, because our whole case is that while Free Trade is the best policy for this country, and, as I believe, for all countries, in normal circumstances, there may be conditions in war, not when the system or the principle of Free Trade breaks down, but when you cannot leave the principles of Free Trade to operate because you have got compulsory imports and insufficient power to export, and it may be desirable to exclude imports which are not of particular service to the country. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Why not prohibit them?"] There are other objections to prohibition. My right hon. Friend said that I could not escape his argument by any explanation I could make.

Mr. LOUGHmade an observation which was not heard in the Reporters' Gallery.


My right hon. Friend's exact words were, "He could not escape the argument by any explanation he could make." Then it is prejudged. If nothing I can say can justify my action, it is quite useless attempting to say anything.


I think I ought to get fair-play. The argument I was submitting to the House was that my right hon. Friend's words cannot be weighed against his deeds and that he would be judged hereafter by what he does and not by what he says.


There never was anything truer said. I hope my right hon. Friend will take his own lesson to heart and judge men, not by what they say but by what they do—judge them by their acts just as you judge trees by their fruits, and not by what they say. On one point I think a very strong argument was raised. It was urged that many of the cars which are brought into this country are brought in for business purposes, and that in taxing them we may be taxing something which we do not wish to exclude, and that consequently, not on the Free Trade or Tariff Reform argument, but merely the argument of utility which I am putting forward now —I am basing my case for the moment merely upon that argument—it is undesirable to put a duty upon anything which facilitates business. I think that argument is immensely strong, and consequently when we come to deal with the tax in the Bill—it is not necessary to alter the Resolution for the purpose—I shall propose to exempt all motor lorries and vans used exclusively for trade purposes, together with their parts.




Chassis and parts of chassis to be used exclusively for purposes of trade. I hope no one will quote against me the words I am using now, but I desire to convey the intention that motor cars and parts of cars which are intended exclusively for the purposes of trade will be exempt. I have always said with regard to these taxes that if Members will direct their minds to a particular tax as it affects us now, until 1st August next, during this War, I shall be only too happy to hear everything they have to say. But when you get to the general argument of Free Trade or Tariff Reform I am bound to say it leaves me for the moment quite cold. My hon Friend (Lieut.-Commander Wedgwood) protested against this tax, and complained that we were raising a great controversy on principle. I dispute that absolutely. I decline in all arguments hereafter—not now, but in future years—to admit, and I say so now, that I abandon the principle. My hon. Friend was interrupted by an hon. Gentleman sitting opposite who said, "Why are you raising it then?" My hon. Friend's reply was, "You have got what you want." Does my hon. Friend really in fairness think so? If I were a Tariff Reformer I should never accept this. [An HON. MEMBER: "The thin end of the wedge!"] If it is limited to that, I shall not quarrel with it. I speak as a Free Trader and I do not pretend to express the opinions or the views of Tariff Reformers, but I think in justice to them it must not be alleged that this is a Tariff Reform Budget. When we come to these taxes one by one, I think it will be far better if we debate each of them on its merits. This is only one stage of the Bill and not a very convenient stage for debating the tariff. We know the views of Free Traders, of which I proclaim myself one. I think that is an argument which will be far better used when the Bill is brought forward.


It comes into force to-morrow.


Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that Excise Duty will be put on?


I will at once give my hon. Friend the reason why I have not even considered Excise Duties. We simply could not do it. I explained in my Budget statement that there is a very real limitation to the powers of the Customs officials. Although new duties are introduced, there is no new Excise introduced. One hon. Member pointed out that we have Excises on other articles, but no new Excise. We have machinery already existing with regard to the other duties, but to impose an Excise upon these articles, with all the restraints they would entail on manufacture, would be a task absolutely impossible to impose upon the Customs at present.


May I ask you, Sir, if an Excise Duty is not included in this Resolution? Will it be in order to introduce it when the Bill is introduced? Will it not be against the Rules of the House to add to the taxation, and therefore out of order?


No tax can be introduced except by a Resolution of the House. That is quite elementary.


I am only observing that it would be much more convenient when we get to the individual taxes. I do not mind if there is a general Debate now on this, but I deprecate a general Debate, as we had before, upon each of these duties on the general principle, because in discussing the general principle we lose the value of the argument for and against a particular tax, and I am quite sure there will be a good deal to be said on the particular merits of the particular taxes as they affect the trades concerned, just as in this tax there is a great deal to be said upon the business side of taxing the motor lorry, and it would be a great pity if in the heat of controversy on general principle we lost sight of the business effect of particular taxes quite regardless of their effect in principle. I would therefore deprecate our devoting too much attention to the fiscal controversy and too little attention to the particular tax. I hope the House will be willing to accept the proposals as they stand. I cannot believe the motor-car industry will obtain any advantage from the imposition of this duty. At this time, as I am informed, and I believe I have good means of information, the whole of the domestic manufacture is at a standstill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am informed, and I believe my information is good, that the manufacture of new motor cars has ceased, and I believe that to be the case. Our own industry is, in consequence, at a very great disadvantage for the future, but I do not think that would be an argument to justify the duty. We ask for this duty in order to limit the import of an article which is extensively used solely for the purpose of luxury. I merely observe inferentially that the duty does not and cannot protect a trade which is not at work, and the trade which is supposed to be protected is suffering by the fact that its business is being gradually invaded by the products of foreign manufactures, a condition which the trade would not have to suffer if the whole of its works had not been taken over for the purposes of the War.

These are considerations which operate precisely in the opposite direction from the line taken up by my right hon. Friend. I appeal to him to believe that the Government as a whole have no intention by these duties to adopt or discard either one theory or the other. It is intended to be a recognition that these theories on both sides must for the time being remain in abeyance, that the conditions of our trade and of our finance are absolutely abnormal, and that every Member of this House, be he a member of the Government or a private Member, is absolutely at liberty, whenever these Resolutions come up for consideration again, to support them or vote against them according to the circumstances of the moment, regardless of the position which he may have taken with regard to them at the present time. I really think that in these circumstances it would be only fair if on both sides of the House fiscal controversy were allowed to drop.


Why do you raise it then?


I am endeavouring to say that I do not intend to raise it. If my hon. Friend thinks that I am mistaken and that I am raising it, I hope, at any rate, he will give me credit for honesty of intention not to raise it. I personally think that I am not raising it. I hold myself absolutely at liberty if I occupy the position this time next year which I occupy now, not to invite the House to renew this tax. I hold myself absolutely at liberty when the War is over, or if the War is continuing and conditions are different, and the exchange is in our favour and the need of excluding imported luxuries no longer exists—I shall regard myself as absolutely free to ask the House to drop this tax. Holding that opinion, I cannot see that my hon. Friend is justified in saying that I am raising controversy. Others may think that this may lead to controversy in the future. Let us, however, take these taxes as they stand, for what they are worth. I do appeal to the House to let the fiscal controversy subside and to deal with the taxes on their merits.

ROYAL ASSENT.—Message to attend the Lords Commissioners. The House went, and having returned,

Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—

The Consolidated Fund (No. 4) Act, 1915.